SWEAT BATHING HAS BEEN as common to people as the making of bread and the squeezing of the grape. Numerous cultures through history have discovered that the sweat bath, in one form or another, enlivens both body and spirit.
Although sweat bathing has only recently entered America’s contemporary life, it thrived here long before Columbus in the form of sweat lodges and temescals.
Imagine literally sweating yourself around the world, as Mikkel Aaland did – lying on a marble slab in a Turkish hammam enduring a delicious pummeling by a fierce masseur or basking in the profound tranquility of a mushi-buro in Kyoto.
Aaland spent three years on his pilgrimage sweating with people in far parts of the world-in the ancient smoke saunas (savusaunas) of rural Finland, boisterous banias in Russia, neighborly temescals in a Mexican village, and a Navajo sweat lodge in the Southwest.
Aaland, a second generation Norseman who speaks several Scandinavian languages, brought back a rich store of photographs and experience from his world travels. His book, in my estimation, is a revelation. “Sweat is beautiful,” he declares. They used to say that only horses sweat, that men perspire and women glow, thereby suggesting that sweating is undesirable and should be suppressed by anti-perspirants.
Aaland touches a sensitive nerve in the gentile and those of us who don’t sweat for a living. He explains that if we don’t sweat regularly, we deprive ourselves of a vital bodily function. The skin is our body’s largest and most complex organ and plays an important role in our fitness.
For years I extolled the glories of the hot tub, its virtues which surpass those of a lonely bath. Aaland shows that a hot tub is an idle luxury compared to the deep restorative heat of a sauna. An induced sweat cleanses the body from inside out, purging it of toxins from polluted environments. The modern shower, by comparison, is but a superficial rinsing. He also explains the positive effects from negative ions, created when water is splashed on red-hot sauna rocks.
A Tai Chi master tells of a gathering of the oldest men in his province. The youngest were in their seventies and some were well into their nineties. They sought to determine the secret of their longevity. One by one, they described their various diets, exercise programs, herbal remedies, ways of living; but they came to no general agreement about any one of these things. Finally, they realized that the one practice they all had in common and that was each of them, in one way or another, managed to make himself sweat every day. This was their secret.
Aaland has a vision of public saunas appearing on street corners throughout America, trail sweats glowing in mountain campsites, sweat baths in schools, skyscrapers and factories-a vision of people everywhere basking in the healthful warmth and camaraderie of a sweat bath.
Sweat bathing, undoubtedly, is more important now in these sedentary times than ever before, in the same sense that so many of us have turned to jogging, tennis and jumping rope to keep our bodies alive.
–Leon Elder, a.k.a Noel Young
Publishers note: with the exception of additional color images and some minor edits, this is a faithful reproduction of the original version of Sweat published in 1978. Some of the nomenclature and references are therefore dated.
TO MY FAMILY ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ATLANTIC
SWEAT would not have been possible without the aid and support of the Finnish Sauna Society; friends in Chico, Berkeley and Finland; and many sweat bath researchers and enthusiasts around the world. (A list of people and organizations who assisted me can be found in the Appendix.) I give special thanks to Martti Vuorenjuuri, author of Sauna kauta aikion; Jack Swanson, writer/editor and friend; Paul Lynn, M.D., holistic health educator in Santa Rosa, California, who advised me on the physiological effects of sweat bathing; Kris Aaland, my father, who helped me with the construction chapter; Irene Petrel, Albany sauna designer; and, most heartily, Noel Young and all the others at Capra Press.